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Hands-on With the Heroes of Marvel’s Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Kamala & More)

marvel, avengers nycc, hands-on preview, demo
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Hands-on With the Heroes of Marvel’s Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Kamala & More)

The Avengers have never been more popular. When big-name companies like Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics clamor for a shot at developing their own Avengers game, you know the property is doing well. And, if the demo is any indication, we might have another hit on our hands, or at least a game that is almost a hit.

During NYCC, I was invited to participate in a closed doors Avengers demo —that also revealed Kamala Khan as the sixth playable character. The demo I experienced was (mostly) the same one we covered earlier this year, but there’s a difference between seeing other players participate in a demo and trying it yourself.

In case you haven’t seen the demo, it is basically the tutorial/prologue for Marvel’s Avengers and reveals the events of the disastrous A-Day through the eyes of every Avenger. The demo let me get a feel for each of their play styles, and while they share certain similarities, such as light and heavy attacks and the ability to dodge, no two Avengers felt the same.

Captain America and Black Widow, for instance, fought like regular brawlers, but they were two very different flavors. Cap was a pugilist brawler with old fashioned, bone-crunching blows and a shield that can deflect anything, including physics since it bounces around without losing momentum. Widow, on the other hand, felt faster and packed twin pistols for some pew-pew action, as well as a zip line that let her clothesline enemies.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Iron Man played like he was made for ranged combat. Sure, he could punch above his weight class, but given his ability to fly, shoot enemies with repulsor blasts, and unleash a salvo of missiles, Iron Man seemed built for players who prefer to rain justice —and lasers— from afar.

marvel, avengers nycc, hands-on preview, demo

However, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around Iron Man’s flight mechanics. I don’t know if I was pressing the wrong buttons or if the buttons didn’t work as intended, but I just couldn’t get a handle on Iron Man’s mid-flight altitude. His attitude, on the other hand, is pure Tony Stark, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Out of Marvel’s Avengers’ playable characters, I loved Hulk and Thor the most, thanks to their combat styles. Hulk was, well, he’s the Hulk. He powered through opponents and could even pick them up. I cannot begin to describe the satisfaction I felt when I used a fool to beat another fool into the ground.

As for Thor, there’s no beating around the bush: someone at Crystal Dynamics must be a God of War fan because Thor played similarly to Kratos in the latest GoW game. Like Kratos, Thor could toss Mjolnir into distant enemies, pound nearby opponents into submission with or without his trusty hammer, and recall Mjolnir with a gesture of his hand.

And yes, Mjolnir could damage enemies on the rebound, which brought a smile to my face because who doesn’t love watching someone get clocked upside the head by a hammer boomerang?

However, while Marvel’s Avengers is a very different beast from Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot franchise, the company cannot seem to escape the shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Every now and then, the demo featured set pieces that forced me to run while the world crumbled around me. These scenes provided the same adrenaline rush as similar set pieces in the Tomb Raider reboot games.

Marvel’s Avengers also featured QTEs, but unlike its set pieces, I was not a fan of the QTEs since they didn’t feel organic. Moreover, some QTEs were fatal if you didn’t press the correct button, which is a common pitfall in action games that hurts enjoyability.

Credit where credit is due, though: the cinematography during the QTEs was gorgeous and looked like a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. However, since I wasn’t in control of my character during the QTEs, they didn’t provide the same adrenaline rush as the set pieces, which diminished the wow factor.

marvel, avengers nycc, hands-on preview, demo

I’m embarrassed to say I died to a failed QTE, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned that Marvel’s Avengers’ load screens are fairly long. I didn’t measure their actual length, but I felt as if I stared at the screen for at least 20 seconds, which is an eternity in action games. Here’s hoping loading times are ironed out as the game is optimized.

Originally, I wanted to end the preview here and say that Marvel’s Avengers is a fun, if simple, brawler. However, I was given a special, post-presentation treat: a special demo that let me try out Kamala Khan and her embiggening powers.

The Kamala demo took place in what is known as the H.A.R.M. Room, which is the Avengers’ version of the X-Men’s Danger Room, or at the very least a Star Trek holodeck.

To break it down in game terminology, the H.A.R.M. room summoned waves of increasingly difficult enemies, and I had to survive all the waves. Unlike normal wave-based game modes, if you died during a specific wave, the game forced you to retry that wave but with the added benefit of full health.

Full disclosure: I died and was subsequently resurrected on the last wave. What good is a wave-based challenge if it doesn’t force you to start over from the beginning? Still, the waves got exponentially harder the further I got into the mode. Not Dark Souls or Battletoads difficult, but still difficult nonetheless.

However, from what I could tell, the Kamala demo did not feature her unlockable attacks, so while I had to mix up my attacks to survive, I still varied the same attacks over and over again.

The mode was fun, but I can see combat becoming samey and boring after several hours. Regrettably, I have no idea how often players will unlock attacks in the full version of the game, let alone if they will even change up the game significantly.

I know I originally stated Hulk and Thor were my favorite characters, but now Kamala is. Somewhere halfway between Hulk and Captain America, Kamala was a brawler who used stretchy powers to juggle opponents and limbo under attacks. Plus, she included a toggleable ability that increased her attack power (and height) called mini-embiggen.

marvel, avengers nycc, hands-on preview, demo

I spent most of the Kamala demo holding down the R2 button (I forgot to mention that the demo was played on a PlayStation 4) to keep mini-embiggen active. And I must say, I’m not a huge fan of this system.

Don’t get me wrong: mini-embiggen is a cool power, but it cramped my finger after several minutes. Usually, abilities like mini-embiggen come packaged with disadvantages like decreased defense, but I never noticed anything like that during the demo. Perhaps mini-embiggen’s downside was supposed to be Kamala’s larger hitbox and a minor finger cramp? Small potatoes, honestly.

If I had one major complaint about Marvel’s Avengers, I would have to point a cramped finger at the game’s lock-on system, or rather lack thereof. Most modern action titles, from Devil May Cry 5 to Kingdom Hearts 3, feature a lock-on system, and I couldn’t find one in the demo. Either I’m stupid or the game doesn’t include a lock-on system, which is an oversight in this day and age.

For Crystal Dynamic’s first stab at the brawler genre, color me impressed. Marvel’s Avengers is far from rough around the edges, but it still needs to endure few growing pains. With a little elbow grease and a tweak or two, the game could be fantastic.

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